Sunday, December 2, 2012

Movie Review – Red Dawn (2012 version)

  Red Dawn is the remake of the iconic 1984 film starring Patrick Swayze about a group of high school students who fight against a Russian occupation of the United States using guerilla warfare tactics. At the time, Red Dawn was considered an incredibly violent movie and was the first U.S. movie to receive the PG-13 rating. The two violent scenes that stick out in my mind are the gunning down of the adults in the makeshift prison camp while singing ‘America the Beautiful’ and the rebel girl who is shot and dying but holds a grenade to take some of the Russians out when they move her corpse. There is also the execution of one of the rebels who swallows a tracking device to help the Russians prepare an ambush.

  The original movie tries to show the point of view of the occupying Cuban colonel, who is discomfited by the prospect of fighting on the opposite side of a guerilla war than he is used to. The rebels are slowly whittled away one by one, but the end of the movie hints at a triumphant outcome for the resistance as a whole.

  The newer version of Red Dawn changes the original script in a number of ways. Instead of Russian occupiers, our new oppressors are North Korean. The script originally called for a Chinese invasion, but was changed in order to keep the movie from being disallowed in Chinese theatres and possibly to keep a steady supply of ‘Red Dawn’ action figures and toys for the Christmas season.

  The 2012 version of the rebel group Wolverines are still mostly high school kids, but group leader Jed Eckhert is a Marine home on leave from Afghanistan and not a high school senior. Eckhert is played by Chris Hemsworth, best known for his role as the Marvel super hero, Thor. In the Red Dawn commercials, I though Hemsworth sounded like Thor and I was afraid his dialogue was going to have an Asgardian tilt in the movie, but his lines are delivered in an understated tone and sounded fine once I got used to it.

  In the 1984 version, the rebels learn how to be guerillas on the job, but in 2012 the Wolverines have Marine training and are honed into a cohesive fighting unit after a few training scenes. Eckhert contrasts his new mission to his tour in Afghanistan telling his troupe that in Afghanistan he was part of the good guys and needed to create order but now he was one of the bad guys and needed to create chaos.

  The movie has a lot of action but the main characters are little more than stereotypes with the exception of Eckert’s brother Matt (played by Josh Peck). We first meet Matt at the beginning of the movie where he is the high school quarterback who costs his team a chance at the state championship with his selfish play, but isn’t held accountable because he’s the best athlete in town and the police chief’s son. He takes the same attitude to his guerilla missions, eventually getting one of the team killed when he deviates from the plan to rescue his girlfriend from her prison camp. Matt learns responsibility during the movie and by the end is a leader of the resistance and preaching responsibility to new recruits.

  I didn’t think the movie was worth $7 and it isn’t even worth a $1 at a Redbox kiosk. It is the type of film that is OK to see on FX or Spike. The high school kids were mostly interchangeable, the North Koreans had no character, and head bad guy Captain Cho only has a line or two of dialog where he gets yelled at by a superior officer to catch the rebels. There was a lot of action but it was long on gunfights and bombs and short on car chases and hand to hand action.

  One part of the movie that had interest to me and wasn’t in the first movie was the organized resistance to the occupation. There were safe houses and other assistance provided by the townspeople to the guerillas. The assistance wasn’t risk free as shown when a clothing store manager is executed when suspected of helping the guerillas.

  I think a television series with a ‘Red Dawn’ type of foreign invasion theme would do well. There would be time to flesh out the characters and take them to locations all over the country. The alien invasion show ‘Falling Skies’ is a favorite of mine and the post-apocalyptic ‘Revolution’ in which America dissolves into five nation-states shows some promise as well.

  If I was going to make an invasion television show, I wouldn’t try to make the Communists the villains since that might turn off all the people whose jobs depend on selling the goods that are made in communist countries like China. I’d frame my story in a United States that’s been taken over by a consortium of Arab nations who have disabled our national defenses and have established an Islamic nation in large parts of the United States.

  There would be a built-in audience from the millions of people would be happy to set aside an hour a week to see ‘them people get theirs’, but I think that the show could be politically correct as well. Aside from the normal 'blow up the weapons depot’ and ‘rescue the team member who has been captured with a risky plan’ plots, there could be cultural exploration mixed in. A female rebel could dress in a burqa to pass through an enemy city undetected in a women’s rights episode or the rebels could receive some unexpected aid from a ‘fifth column’ from members of the closeted Islamic LGBT community or a pacifist leaning commandant. The possibilities are endless.